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OR Tambo International Airport

OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) is a major airport in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, South Africa,[1] near the city of Johannesburg. It serves as the primary airport for domestic and international travel to/from South Africa and is Africa's busiest airport with a capacity to handle up to 28 million passengers annually.[2] The airport is the hub of South Africa's largest international and domestic carrier, South African Airways (SAA), and a number of smaller local airlines.

It was formerly officially known as Johannesburg International Airport and before that as Jan Smuts International Airport[3] (hence the airport's ICAO code, FAJS) after one of South Africa's internationally renowned statesman by that name. The first renaming was done in 1994 when the newly reformed South African government implemented a national policy of not naming airports after politicians. The policy was however reversed later, and the airport renamed again on 27 October 2006 after Oliver Tambo, a former President of the African National Congress.[4]



The airport was founded in 1952 as "Jan Smuts Airport," two years after his death, near the town of Kempton Park on the East Rand. It displaced the "Palmietfontein International Airport", which had handled European flights since 1945. In the same year of its inception, it had the honourable distinction of ushering in the jet age, when the first commercial flight of a de Havilland Comet took off from London Heathrow Airport bound for Johannesburg.[5] A statue of Oliver Tambo at the OR Tambo International Airport. It was used as a test airport for the Concorde during the 1970s, to determine how the aircraft would perform while taking off and landing at high altitude.[6] During the 1980s, many countries stopped trading with South Africa because of the United Nation sanctions imposed against South Africa in the struggle against apartheid, and many airlines had to stop flying to the airport. These sanctions resulted in South African Airways being refused rights to fly over most African countries, and in addition to this the risk of flying over some African countries was emphasised by the shooting down of two passenger aircraft over Rhodesia,[7] forcing them to fly around the "bulge" of Africa. This required specially-modified aircraft like the Boeing 747-SP. Following the ending of apartheid, the airport's name, and that of other international airports in South Africa, were changed and these restrictions were discontinued.

The airport overtook Cairo International Airport in 1996 as the busiest airport in Africa[8] and is the second-busiest airport in the Africa-Middle East region after Dubai International Airport. The airport is one of the 100 busiest in the world.[9] In fiscal year 2010, the airport handled 8.82 million departing passengers.[10]

On 26 November 2006, the airport became the first in Africa to host the Airbus A380.[11] The aircraft landed in Johannesburg on its way to Sydney via the South Pole on a test flight.

Airport information

OR Tambo International Airport is regarded as a "hot and high" airport. Situated almost 1700 metres (5,500 feet) above mean sea level,[12] the air is thin. This has implications for the performance of aircraft at altitude. For example, flights from Johannesburg to Washington, D.C., currently operated with an Airbus A340-600, once had to stop in Dakar International Airport in Senegal for refuelling, since the aircraft was not able to make the run on one fuel fill. This is because of decreased performance on take-off from the airport, where an aircraft cannot take off fully laden with fuel, cargo, and passengers, and must use a longer stretch of runway to reach take-off velocity. By contrast, through April 2009, the return leg of the flight from Washington to Johannesburg was a non-stop 15-hour flight, with better performance of the aircraft at Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington where the airport is 95 meters (313 feet) above sea level. Recent improvements now allow the A340-600 to make this run non-stop in both directions, but because SAA sees a market in West Africa, all flights between Johannesburg and Washington now go through Dakar, even in the US-to-South Africa direction. Today, SAA offers non-stop flights in both directions between Johannesburg and New York City with the A340-600, and Delta offers the same service between Johannesburg and Atlanta using the Boeing 777-200LR. Both routes are slightly longer than Johannesburg Washington. All three flights are (or were) among the longest commercial non-stop flights in the world.

OR Tambo International Airport is one of the few airports in the world that has direct flights (non-stop) to all 6 inhabited continents; others include Dubai International Airport and Doha International Airport.


There are two parallel north-south runways and a disused cross runway. The western runway, 03L/21R, is over 4400 m (14,000 ft) long, making it one of the world's longest international airport runways. Fully laden aircraft require a far greater length of runway to achieve take-off velocity at this altitude than they would normally (see Hot and high). 3 of the 4 are equipped Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) runway 21R does not have an ILS and uses NDB beacons to guide pilots in. Furthermore all runways are equipped with Approach Lighting Systems (ALS) with sequenced flashers, and touchdown zone (TDZ) lighting. Runway 03R/21L is 3,400m (11,155 ft)long and it is also equipped at both ends with Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), Approach Lighting Systems (ALS) with sequenced flashers, and touchdown zone (TDZ) lighting. The Airport used to have a third runway but this was closed due to the danger it posed. It is now a taxiway.

During busy periods, outbound flights use the western runway for take-off, while inbound flights use the eastern runway for landing. Wind factors may cause numerous variations, but on most days flights will take off to the north and land from the south.

South African Airways

OR Tambo International Airport used to serve as grounds for the South African Airways Museum. This room full of South African Airways memorabilia was started by two fans of the airline as a temporary location until they could set it up in one of Jan Smuts International's buildings in 1987. The museum has since relocated to Rand Airport (FAGM).


Inside the OR Tambo International Airport. Gautrain At O R Tambo Intl Airport Construction in progress of the Gautrain viaduct where it enters the terminal building Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) reported that major new developments took place at the airport, in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The development includes expansion of the international terminal, with the new international pier, which house the new Airbus A380 and increase capacity at the same time. A new Central Terminal building, designed by Osmond Lange Architects and Planners, is under construction. An additional multi-storey parkade is being built at a cost of R470 million opposite the Central Terminal Building, plus Terminal A is also being upgraded and the associated roadways realigned to accommodate more International Departures space.

The Central Terminal Building (cost: R2 billion) will boost capacity at the landside of the terminal in 3 levels, also allowing direct access from international and domestic terminals. Additional luggage carousels will be added to accommodate the Airbus A380. Arrivals will be accommodated on level 1, with departures expanded on level 3, level 2 will accommodate further retail and commercial activities. The Gautrain Rapid Rail Link station is above the terminal.

The new International Pier development (cost: R535 million) will increase international arrivals and departures capacity in a double storey structure with nine additional airside contact stands, four of which are Airbus A380 compatible. Air bridges are already in place and the existing duty-free mall will be extended into this area. Additional lounges and passenger holding areas will be constructed on the upper level.

A second terminal between the two runways has also been mooted, which is proposed for completion by 2012. It will contain its own domestic and international check-in facilities, contact stands, shops and lounges and is projected to cost R8 billion to complete. Growth at the airport is expected to reach 24 million passengers per annum by 2015.

In November 2009 Air France announced the scheduled flights of their Airbus A380 into Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport.[13][14] Air France started A380 flights to Johannesburg on the 17 February 2010, initially thrice weekly, now increased to daily. Lufthansa started twice weekly A380 flights into Johannesburg on 12 September 2010.[15] Lufthansa is now operating the A380 daily into Johannesburg. Emirates Airlines started an A380 daily service to Johannesburg from 1 October 2011, replacing one of their 3 daily 777-300ER flights.


There are six terminals at the airport, but these can be broken down into three major areas: the international terminals; the domestic terminals; and the transit terminals. The transit terminal housed disused parts of the old domestic terminals. It has been mostly demolished to build a new Central Terminal that will provide an indoor link between domestic and international terminals, as well as a central passenger check-in area and more gates. It is currently under construction for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Terminals A1 and A2 handle international passengers while the other two terminals handle domestic passengers. Due to the airport's design, departure and arrivals terminals are considered separate terminals. The Central Terminal that is under construction will be named Terminal A3 and it will be used for both international and domestic passengers. The airline Mango has its head office on the mezzanine level of the Domestic Departure Terminal.[16]

Airlines and destinations

The two terminals A and B have been restructured. Several airlines now use terminal B for all check-ins, for both national and international flights. The airlines that moved to Terminal B include SAA, SA Airlink, SA Express, Air Zimbabwe, Air Mauritius and Qantas.[17] Long Haul International cities with direct passenger air links to Johannesburg Regional International cities with direct passenger air links Domestic Destinations with direct air links

Cargo airlines

Traffic and statistics

OR Tambo International Airport recorded 18.6 million passengers in 2010-2011, up from 17.6 million passengers the year before. Of those passengers, 8 million were international and 9.7 million domestic, with the remainder being classified as "regional" or "unscheduled". 212,918 aircraft traffic movements were recorded; the majority being domestic services. The statistics firmly entrench OR Tambo International Airport as being the busiest airport in South Africa.

Annual passenger traffic for OR Tambo International Airport[18]
Year International Regional Domestic Unscheduled Total
Passenger movements % Change Passenger movements % Change Passenger movements % Change Passenger movements % Change Passenger movements % Change
2006-07 6,958,277 no data 651,642 no data 10,094,758 no data 89,423 no data 17,794,100 no data
2007-08 7,645,647 9.9% 714,717 9.7% 11,009,841 9.1% 87,293 2.4% 19,457,498 9.3%
2008-09 7,480,461 2.2% 730,387 2.2% 9,582,332 13.0% 91,679 5.0% 17,884,859 8.1%
2009-10 7,489,211 0.1% 762,033 4.3% 9,270,478 3.3% 74,481 18.8% 17,596,203 1.6%
2010-11 7,965,594 6.4% 794,477 4.3% 9,732,250 5.0% 150,824 102.5% 18,643,145 5.9%
Annual aircraft movements for OR Tambo International Airport[19]
Year International Regional Domestic Unscheduled Total
Aircraft movements % Change Aircraft movements % Change Aircraft movements % Change Aircraft movements % Change Aircraft movements % Change
2006-07 53,003 no data 17,684 no data 114,917 no data 26,037 no data 211,641 no data
2007-08 59,031 11.4% 18,799 6.3% 121,621 5.8% 29,591 13.6% 229,042 8.2%
2008-09 57,559 2.5% 17,965 4.4% 109,372 10.1% 28,297 4.4% 213,193 6.9%
2009-10 59,382 3.2% 19,732 9.8% 103,166 5.7% 20,252 28.4% 202,532 5.0%
2010-11 63,414 6.8% 19,846 0.6% 105,627 2.4% 24,031 18.7% 212,918 5.1%

Other buildings

Airways Park, the head office of South African Airways South African Airways is headquartered in Airways Park on the grounds of OR Tambo International Airport.[1][20][21] The building was developed by Stauch Vorster Architects.[22] Airways Park was completed in March 1997 for 70,000,000 Rand.[23] The fourth floor of the West Wing of the Pier Development of OR Tambo has the head office of SA Express.[24][25][26] Federal Air its the head office in Hangar 14.[27]


In late 2005, a name change was proposed for the airport to "O.R. Tambo International," after former ANC President and anti-apartheid activist Oliver Reginald Tambo, an apparent change to the precedent of neutrally-named airports. The name change was formally announced in the Government Gazette of South Africa on 30 June 2006, allowing a 30-day window for the public to register objections. The name change was implemented on 27 October 2006 with the unveiling of new signs at the airport.

Critics noted the considerable expense involved in renaming the airport, and the decision to use a politician as the name would be obscure, confusing and in some instances, offensive. Corne Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus has stamped the renaming "nothing less than political opportunism and attempts by the ANC government to dodge the true socio-economic issues of the country".[28]

Unnecessary confusion can be caused, for O.R. Tambo is also a District Municipality in the Eastern Cape, seated in Mthatha. It has an International Airport known as the K. D. Matanzima Airport or (Mthatha Airport), named after Kaiser Matanzima.


Rail transit

A transit terminal has been built between the domestic and international terminals. It houses the Gautrain station linking the airport to Sandton, one of the metropolitan area's main business districts and a primary tourist area, and, from there, the rest of the Gautrain system.

In September 2006 Gauteng Province contracted Bombardier Transportation for a rail link connecting Johannesburg, Pretoria, and the airport, with construction to begin immediately.[29] The section linking the airport to Sandton in Johannesburg was completed on 8 June 2010 in time for the World Cup.Trains run 90 trips per day and carry an estimated 8000 passengers daily.[30]


The Airport is easily accessible by car and it is located in North-East Johannesburg on the R24 Airport Freeway, which can be accessed by the N3 Eastern Bypass and the R21 highway. The R24 Intersects with the R21 and the OR Tambo Airport Highway. This highway goes through the airport Terminals, separating it from the parking bays, but it branches off into two directions: Departures and Arrivals, and then it rebranches into the intersection. Approximately 6 major car rental companies serve the airport, with rental locations located on and off the airport.


Five bus city lines, operated by Metrobus and Putco, pass through the airport twice a day. The buses are accessible in the morning and the evening, when there are many passengers departing and arriving. There are also private bus lines operating express buses to the CBD of Johannesburg, as well as other locations.

Accidents and incidents

  • 20 October 1957 A Vickers Viscount G-AOYF, operated by Vickers was damaged beyond economic repair when the starboard undercarriage collapsed following a heavy landing.[31]
  • 1 March 1988 - An Embraer EMB 110 Bandeirante, ZS-LGP, exploded in mid air whilst on final approach for landing. All seventeen occupants were killed. A passenger was suspected of detonating an explosive device but to this day it has never been proven beyond all doubt.[32]
  • 22 April 1999 - A Boeing 727-23 was damaged beyond repair by large hailstones while on approach for landing at FAJS. Aircraft landed safely with no loss of life.[33]
  • 3 November 2001 A Reims-Cessna F406 crashed shortly after takeoff from runway 03R, killing all 3 occupants. The aircraft did not have a valid certificate of airworthiness at the time of the incident.[34]
  • On 9 April 2004, an Emirates Airbus A340-300 operating a flight from Johannesburg to Dubai sustained serious damage during takeoff when it failed to become airborne before the end of the runway, striking 25 approach lights, causing four tyres to burst which in turn threw debris into various parts of the aircraft, ultimately damaging the flap drive mechanism. This rendered the flaps immoveable in the takeoff position. The aircraft returned for an emergency landing during which the normal braking system failed as a result of the damage. The aircraft was brought to a stop only 250 metres from the end of the 3,400 metre runway using reverse thrust and the alternate braking system.[35] In their report, South African investigators found that the captain had used an erroneous take-off technique, and criticised Emirates training and rostering practices.[36]
  • 25 March 2006 Gunmen held up guards at the airport gates. Others armed with AK-47 assault rifles held up guards and police at a South African Airways aircraft and helped themselves to bags of pound sterling banknotes flown in from Britain. Several airport security staff were implicated in the heist.[37]

See also


External links

af:OR Tambo Internasionale Lughawe da:OR Tambo International Airport de:Flughafen Johannesburg es:Aeropuerto Internacional de Johannesburgo-Oliver Reginald Tambo fr:A roport international OR Tambo ko:OR id:Bandar Udara Internasional OR Tambo it:Aeroporto Internazionale OR Tambo he: . ms:Lapangan Terbang Antarabangsa OR Tambo nl:OR Tambo International Airport ja: no:OR Tambo internasjonale lufthavn pl:Port lotniczy Johannesburg pt:Aeroporto Internacional Oliver Tambo ru: . . fi:OR Tambon kansainv linen lentoasema sv:OR Tambo internationella flygplats th: vi:S n bay qu c t OR Tambo zh:

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